Guitar festival off to a stunning start with Crawford and Palmer
Review of he first day of the 11th Bermuda Guitar Festival (Performers: Steve Crawford and Matthew Palmer at St Andrews Church, Hamilton)
Bermuda punches above its weight thanks to the dedication and drive of Steve Crawford and his team at the Bermuda School of Music.
This year marks the 11th year of the Bermuda Guitar Festival where world class talent has assembled in St Andrews Church on Church Street to share music.
Mr Crawford’s guests over the years read like a global guitar who’s who: Chapdelaine, Rafferty, York, Luiz, Lora, Newman, Katona, Weinberg, Adam Brown and of course Bermuda’s own Milt Robinson and Paul Gibbons.
We’ve heard just about every hand held plucked instrument from the Afghan lute to slide guitar playing in every possible style from repertories as diverse as humanity.
Mr Crawford opened the concert with his signature programme from Spanish composers Turina, Albéniz, Tárrega and the Paraguayan Agustín Barriós.
He concluded with two different pieces, French composer Erik Satie’s Gnossienne from the early 1900s and American saxophonist Paul Desmond’s 1959 composition Take Five.
The Satie piece is typically languid with slow tempo chords punctuated with wry little twists creating an atmosphere, somehow satirical and self-deprecatory.
Mr Crawford performed this with well defined treble and bass contrasts.
Take Five became a major hit single propelling Dave Brubeck and his Quartet into the US charts in 1961 with what was to be the best-selling jazz single of all time. It was ably played by Mr Crawford who simultaneously rendered melody and accompaniment.
Matthew Palmer is an unassuming, shy-looking guy who happens to be one of the world’s best guitar players.
He supports his left foot on a cloth covered brick, and plays with a cushion on his left knee to support the guitar waist, lifting the keyboard easily within his line of sight. When he plays, he almost disappears behind the instrument so that his hands and the music dominate.
He has an astounding technical ability and an ease of delivery of lightning rasgueado (his hands actually blur), tremolo and perfectly executed rapid arpeggios.
Each of the pieces he chose enabled him to show these techniques in full. First was Saudade No. 3 by the Tunisian/French composer Roland Dyens.
A ‘saudade’ is traditionally a piece reflecting a mood of contemplative melancholy, made famous by the first movement of Barrios’s La Catedrál.
However, Dyens’ treatment is radically different, almost a parody of the genre.
It’s a mixture of blues, swing and modern classical music reminiscent of Britten, Copeland and York while also containing North African Arab phrases. A wonderful piece of music.
Next, he played the five mood piece miniatures Collectiti Intim by the Catalonian pianist Vicente Asencio. All are exquisite, but to me the most interesting was the last one, La Frisança, or ‘impatience’ and the music cleverly depicts the frustrations of starting and then restarting in a slightly different way. A bit like trying to get out of the house and then continually remembering stuff you’ve forgotten and going back inside to get it.
Olga Amelkina-Vera is a Byelorussian composer now living in the US and she composed this next piece, Sonata, for Mr Palmer. It’s a sound portrait which reflects the turbulent politics and recent tragic upheavals in the Ukraine.
Brilliantly weaving together the sounds of Cossack rural and religious tradition with those of anger, civil disturbance, people’s desperation and the destruction of innocence, this Chaconne-sized piece releases encroaching patterns of chaos which proceed to overwhelm its own underlying structures.
This is a grim metaphor for the plight of the Ukraine.
I also think that what we heard here is the birth of a new major work, important in its way as Picassos’ Guernica. I also understand from Mr Palmer that tonight was its world premiere.
After a standing ovation, he returned to give us the stunning finale from Stepan Rak’s Mongolian Sonata.
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